At the risk of pointing out the obvious, I am struck by similarities between two of the state’s initiatives this year; Proficiency Based Graduation and Teacher and Principal Evaluation. There are reasons that both of these initiatives are on the table here in Maine and across the country, both are efforts (you may decide if they are misguided or not) to increase accountability. Combined with the rollout last year of a new school-level measure of accountability (the Maine School Performance Grading System, i.e. the report cards we received last spring), there are three new levels of accountability deployed by the State of Maine.
- Student level accountability captured in the Proficiency Based Graduation Law (PBG)
- Teacher and Principal level accountability captured in the Teacher and Principal Effectiveness Law (TE/PE)
- School level accountability captured in the Maine School Performance Grading System.
My goal in this post is not to weigh the relative merits of any of these acts, but to suggest that in thinking about the first two, I have found it valuable to compare what I think is fair in measuring me as an educator (TE/PE) with what I think is fair for our measurement of students for graduation (PBG). Both systems have high stakes attached to their implementation (job performance or graduation) but they share other important requirements in my mind.
- Clear Targets– I want to know what standards of performance I am going to be held to as an educator. These should be stated with performance indicators and descriptions of what effective looks like. It must be transparent to me. Students in our PBG system deserve the same.
- Feedback– I want feedback from those evaluating me about where I am meeting those targets and where I need to focus my efforts. I also want to be provided with time and support to address those areas where I am weak. Students in our PBG system deserve the same.
- Course Adjustment– If I am not measuring up to an aspect of my job as an educator, I want an opportunity to redress that issue. I am much more likely to fix a weakness if I am made aware of it in the moment and given an opportunity to change course. I am much less likely to improve if I only hear about the issue after the opportunity for correction has passed. Students need this feedback to be timely also, especially if their failure to address the issue would lead to their failure to demonstrate proficiency on some standard.
- Multiple Opportunities– I want to be evaluated over time in multiple contexts. As a teacher I recognized that many times I was more effective at meeting some standards of practice in some classes and less effective in others. Considering discipline or the integration of technology in my classes, in some lessons, on some days, with some kids these things were easy and on other days they were a train wreck. The same is true for students. They deserve multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding.
- Performance Based– I want to be evaluated on my performance in the real world on real tasks. I would shudder to think my evaluation depended upon answering questions about would good teaching looks like, I want to be evaluated on my teaching. Students deserve this also. They should be evaluated on meaningful tasks that capture the standards we are assessing.
- Multiple Measures– I don’t believe I have seen a single measure that can capture all that I put into teaching or leading. Even if we focus on small aspects of my performance as a teacher or leader, there are many ways to capture a snapshot of this performance. I want as many valid measures as possible to be used in assessing my performance. Students deserve this also.
- Truly Summative– I want to be evaluated on the whole package. I will never master all the requirements of my job. I want to know where I can improve, as articulated in the clear targets noted above. I am also very comfortable with those strengths and weaknesses being shared with others who have a need to know (current employers, future employers, nominating committees, etc.). However, I couldn’t hold down my job if my evaluation required that I be proficient in all aspects of my job. I would not want an evaluation system that required me, as a teacher, to master every best practice, each wrinkle of pedagogy, every new requirement in law or policy. I would want a system that recognizes that the sum of my value is greater than the parts. Report on my strengths and weaknesses and let my current or future employers decide if it is good enough. Students deserve this in our PBG system also. We can report honestly about student’s strengths and weaknesses, but a decision about graduation (read keeping my job) should be based upon the entire package. Share with Harvard, Bath Iron Works, or the Military a student’s strengths and weaknesses captured by our PBG system, but certifying proficiency should be a truly summative process.
- Recognize Uncertainty– All measurements contain error. I want an evaluation system for myself that uses as accurate and precise a set of tools as possible. More importantly, I want those making decisions about my evaluation to recognize and acknowledge that our tools of measurement are crude and uncertain. These tools are subject to bias, poor implementation, or subjectivity. The tools with which we measure student understanding may be cruder still. We must consider this when making high stakes decisions such as graduation.
- Shared Ownership– I would prefer an evaluation system of my performance that allowed me to; articulate goals for improvement, have a say in their measurement, and provided an opportunity to reflect and comment on my own success. I am more invested in goals that I have some control over than in those imposed upon me. I believe students are also more invested in their learning when they are allowed some control in how it unfolds.
- Celebrate Success– I want to be acknowledged for the things I am doing well at in my job, even if I have significant weaknesses that I am addressing. My ability to remain engaged and motivated is affected positively when I receive acknowledgment for the improvements I have made. We need a system for students that supports them in seeing the progress they have made in their understanding.
Holding the lens of my accountability up to the development of a PBG system is helping me to be clear about what is really fair, equitable, and moral. I would argue that the system for students must err on the side of favoring false positives (certifying proficiency when a student truly was not) and not on the side of false negatives (failing to find a student proficient, when in reality they truly were proficient). There will always be both types of error in any certification because of the inherent uncertainty in measurement. We would want nothing less for ourselves in our performance evaluation. What is good for the goose really is good for the gander.